Azara Blog: February 2009 archive complete

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Date published: 2009/02/19

British rail passengers are allegedly hard done by (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

European rail travellers generally get a better deal on tickets compared with British users, especially in south-east England, a watchdog report suggests.

Passenger Focus said "turn up and go" fares to London from elsewhere in the UK generally cost more than similar journeys in other European countries.

On average, fares were 50% higher in Britain than on the continent.

The watchdog called for rail firms to cap prices, but ministers said fares had fallen relative to earnings.

Transport minister Andrew Adonis said that to reduce prices further, taxes would have to rise.

This is a typically bad BBC article. Why should rail passengers expect to receive a subsidy every time they get on a train? Why does the BBC continually produce articles that imply that such a subsidy is of course the correct approach? Why does the BBC continually publish articles that are basically just dressed up press releases for some special interest pressure group (this time, Passenger Focus)? Needless to say these pressure groups usually (as here) have self-serving reasons for pushing their story.

The basic function of a journalist should be to critically analyse the propaganda that such special interest pressure groups are pushing. But the BBC rarely questions the propaganda of any of the (zillions of) academic middle class organisations (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the RSPB, etc.), perhaps because BBC journalists are typical members of the academic middle class, so are incapable of being critical in this regard.

Frankfurt observations (permanent blog link)

Frankfurt is the top financial city in Germany, if not Europe. But it is amazingly tiny (unlike Berlin, which stretches for miles and miles) and low-rise except for a few skyscrapers (so similar to Berlin and London). Much of it was destroyed in the war so not many old buildings remain. There are some nice churches, but other than that not a heck of a lot on the architectural front.

The flight from London City airport to Frankfurt is probably the best way to get there (unless you have your own private jet). London City is not that easy to get to (it's near the end of one branch of the creaking Docklands Light Railway). But it's no worse than Heathrow to get to, and far better once one is there. So the walk from the DLR station to the terminal building is about two minutes (so even better than the equivalent walk at Stansted from the train to the terminal building). The security line at London City is all but non-existant, even with only one or two checkers.

The flight in both directions was much less than half full, which is bizarre in the Ryanair era when 80+ percent capacity should be the norm. So either London City is about to lose some flights, or business customers are paying way over the odds to use the airport and so are massively subsidising the flights.

Frankfurt is such a small city that the airport is in the middle of nowhere even though it is less than half an hour from the downtown. Unlike Heathrow it is easy to get around the airport, with a convenient "sky train" to get between the two terminals. But the signage is rather poor. Indeed, it is not even that easy to find out what the departure gate for one's flight is, at least in Terminal 2.

And in Terminal 2, at least, the security check is after the duty-free shop. That would cause apoplexy in Britain. The German security people don't think it is a problem because the duty-free has to be in a sealed bag. But it surely wouldn't take that clever a malcontent to figure out how to make a convincing version. One good thing about the security in Frankfurt is that they don't have this hysterical approach to the 100 ml rule that now operates at British airports. And the German security check was far more thorough than the British one is (so maybe they are clever enough to spot stuff masquerading as duty free which is not), yet the lines were almost non-existant.

The people of Frankfurt seemed relatively relaxed. Indeed, quite a few of them jaywalk, or cross when the light is red. In many parts of Germany (even Berlin) that would be met with a fierce disapproving stare and some muttering.

National Trust will supposedly open up 1000 allotments (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The National Trust is releasing enough land for up to 1,000 allotments, on some of the most famous country estates in Britain.

The land will be available for individuals or community groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The release will be organised through the Landshare website, which matches growers with available land.

The Trust says there are now 100,000 people on waiting lists for allotments around the country.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee said it was not long ago that allotment gardening was a deeply unfashionable pursuit, with many plots abandoned, and few people willing to take them on.

However, increasing consumer interest in where food comes from, combined with concerns about food miles and sustainability, has led to an allotment renaissance, our correspondent added.

Unfortunately most National Trust land (at least where they have enough to not worry about the odd allotment getting in the way) is in the middle of nowhere. For example, near Cambridge the likely venues are Anglesey Abbey and Wimpole Hall. The former is at the edge of the fen and the latter is in an equally isolated spot. Perhaps a few nearby villagers might jump at the chance (although in the middle of nowhere one would have thought that most people who were keen to grow vegetables were already doing so on their own land). And given how many properties the NT owns perhaps they are only expecting the odd soul at any given property. All in all, this is mostly an academic middle class PR exercise rather than anything useful.

Date published: 2009/02/13

The UK should allegedly be worrying about life in 2250 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A new report says treaties aimed at reducing CO2 emissions are useless.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers report says we have to accept the world could change dramatically.

It also says we should start planning our major infrastructure now to accommodate more extreme weather events and sea level rises.

While not against attempts to reduce emissions, the report's authors say we should be realistic about what can be achieved with this approach.
Sea level rises could be seven metres in the UK by 2250, which, unchecked, could inundate much of London, East Anglia and other coastal areas.

We may have to accept, they say, that we will need to abandon some parts of the country, and spend significant amounts of money defending others.

2250 may seem like an unimaginably long time away, but the report's authors point out that parts of the London Underground system that are still in use were built in the 1860s, and today's engineers are facing projects the lifetime of which will extend into 2100.

The majority of existing infrastructure, they say, will continue to be operational for at least another 100-200 years.

Well, the authors are probably correct that "treaties aimed at reducing CO2 emissions are useless".

On the other hand, it is ridiculous to even consider what will happen in 2250 even if much of the existing infrastructure does "continue to be operational for at least another 100-200 years". So no matter what some people say, we haven't a clue what life will be like in 2250, just like the people in 1770 did not have a clue what life would be like today. Scientists can make all the predictions they like, but they are based on a naive extrapolation of where the planet is today. It's quite possible, for example, that the world population will crash in the next N decades because of some nasty virus. Worrying about what is happening over the next four or five decades is fine when planning infrastructure (although even these predictions are bound to be seriously wrong). Worrying about it much beyond that is just a parlour game for the academic middle class. The UK should certainly not be diverting billions and trillions of pounds of investment based on what this report claims will happen in 2250.

Roger Pielke Jr says that UK emissions strategy is fundamentally flawed (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK's plans to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 are fundamentally flawed and almost certain to fail, according to a US academic.

Roger Pielke Jr, a science policy expert, said the UK government had underestimated the magnitude of the task to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

He added that it would be more effective to "decarbonise" economic growth rather than focus on targets.

Professor Pielke made his comments during a speech at Aston University.

Professor Pielke said that a country's greenhouse gas trajectory was determined by three factors: economic growth; population growth; and changes in technology.

This meant, the academic from the University of Colorado suggested, that if people migrate to the UK and the economy boomed, it would be harder for politicians to achieve emissions cuts based on historic levels.

He calculated that the combined effects of possible population growth and economic growth could oblige the UK to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon intensity of energy at an unprecedented annual rate of 5.4%.

Conversely, if migrants left the UK and the economy slumped, there would be a downturn in emissions, for which politicians would claim unearned credit.

Professor Pielke suggested that a more effective measure would be to track the emissions produced for every unit of wealth generated by individuals. In other words: CO2 per capita GNP.

This would focus efforts on delivering the technological change needed to reduce emissions, he believed.

However, Professor Pielke's approach also raises a number of questions.

First, there is no guarantee that a change in measurement will provoke the scale of change the author believes is required.

Moreover, his alternative system would reward governments that shifted to service-based economies and moved their emissions "offshore", creating an illusionary cut in emissions.

This difficulty could be overcome with a more complex measure based on CO2 per capita GNP and would include imported "embedded" emissions.

But that has problems too: in modern supply chains: a computer may contain parts from 20 different countries and manufacturers regularly change suppliers, so it will often be impossible to keep an accurate tally of embedded carbon.

It could also be too complex for many people to grasp easily.
Professor Pielke's intervention was rejected by economist Terry Barker, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"Pielke's analysis does not tell us how fast an economy can de-carbonise, just how much it has done so in the past when there has been a weak carbon price," he said.

"[His] proposals are diversionary; they fail to emphasise the scale of the no-regrets options available to reduce emissions at net benefit and they do not include potential changes in regulations on vehicles and power stations that could lead to rapid de-carbonisation."

Professor Tom Burke from Imperial College London added: "These conclusions are a very marginal addition to our knowledge.

"The argument in his paper amounts to saying that getting 80% will be difficult. This is hardly news.

"There is nothing that supports the contention that the Climate Change Act will fail or that there are flaws in its basic conception or that there is an alternative approach which is better.

"No-one has said this would be easy."

Well it's hardly surprising that lots of people would jump on what Pielke has said. For one thing, they would never like the CO2 per capita GNP measure, because it means that it is fine to continue with economic growth as long as you are becoming more emissions efficient at the same time, and also, most countries do well on this measure (even the United States). For another thing, these people have spent a lot of political effort getting the UK government to sign on to this allegedly legally binding commitment to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, and they are hardly going to want to admit that they have screwed up big time.

The article completely misleads with the statement that Pielke's "alternative system would reward governments that shifted to service-based economies and moved their emissions "offshore", creating an illusionary cut in emissions." Although true, that shift has nothing to do with Pielke's particular way of measuring progress, it also affects the approach he is criticising, namely just looking at a country's CO2 emissions. The US and Europe have shifted huge amounts of CO2 production offshore the last two decades towards countries like China. This is one reason the UK will meet its Kyoto targets.

And it is always amusing to see some people insist that in the rich west one should consider just total CO2 emissions but for the rest of the world one should instead be considering CO2 per capita. Funnily enough, both of these measures have their own flaws, which the BBC chooses to ignore when criticising Pielke's suggestion.

So using total CO2 as the measure means, for example, that China should be cutting emissions by quite a lot. (Although it is not totally obvious because the current accounting system for emissions is fundamentally flawed since it considers production rather than consumption.) And using total CO2 as a measure means that if the UK splits into four countries then each country automatically ought to get the same as the existing quota for the UK, so the overall quota multiplies by four.

And using CO2 per capita as the measure means that countries which are irresponsible and continue to allow population growth will garner more and more overall CO2 quota for themselves. This is plainly unacceptable, especially given that population is the main driver behind the world's environmental problems.

Date published: 2009/02/10

Scotland throws public money at killing grey squirrels (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

More than £1m is to be spent over the next three years on saving Scotland's red squirrels and protecting routes into their northern strongholds.

The number or reds has been in decline since the arrival of the grey squirrel from North America in the 19th Century.

Greys compete with reds for food and can also carry the squirrel pox virus, which can kill reds in about 14 days.

There are currently about 121,000 red squirrels in Scotland and the country is home to 75% of the UK's reds.

The £1.3m Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels (SSRS) project has been launched in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

There are thought to be between 200,000 and 300,000 greys in Scotland.

It will develop habitats in which the red squirrel can flourish but will also try to control the greys, which will involve killing them.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) are involved in the project.

The BBC regularly publishes this kind of crude anti-grey squirrel propaganda. They do not quote a single person or organisation opposing the scheme. They do not note the irony that the Scottish Wildlife Trust thinks it is in their remit to kill wildlife. They do not question why it is allegedly a good thing that public money is spent in this way.

Imagine if these organisations had said they wanted to prohibit black people from moving into the Highlands of Scotland in order to "protect" the "native" population. It's the same logic, just applied to humans rather than squirrels. Needless to say, the BBC would not publish such racist views (except to denounce them). Well, perhaps if the aim was against English people, rather the black people, the BBC might have played along. Because of course Scottish people are heroic, like red squirrels, and English people are predatory, like grey squirrels.

Switzerland votes to continue to allow in EU workers (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The people of Switzerland have voted to continue allowing in workers from the EU and to extend access to two new member states, Romania and Bulgaria.

Official referendum results showed that almost 60% of voters had supported the proposal.

Right-wing politicians had warned that extending access could bring an influx of cheap labour at a time of recession.

The recession has nothing to do with the views of the "right-wing politicians". They just hate foreigners and are trying to continually foment anti-foreigner attitudes amongst the Swiss. Fortunately, at least on this one occasion, the Swiss voters told the peddlers of fear to get lost.

Horse riding is allegedly as dangerous as taking ecstasy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse, a senior adviser has suggested.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), outlined his view in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The council, which advises the government, is expected next week to recommend that ecstasy is downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.

Professor Nutt wrote: "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."

The professor said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year, and went on: "This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

Ecstasy use is linked to around 30 deaths a year, up from 10 a year in the early 1990s. Fatalities are caused by massive organ failure from overheating or the effects of drinking too much water.

Needless to say, Nutt was forced to recant by the government. And it's obvious why the ruling elite got so hysterical at his remarks. They believe that horse riding is inherently a moral activity and taking drugs is inherently an immoral activity. So the former activity should be treated as heroic, and the latter should be treated with disdain. This quaint view does not change the facts. And this is even ignoring the fact that many of the people that hold this view took drugs quite regularly when they were younger.

David Cameron stands tall on education of his kids (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Conservative Party leader David Cameron has pledged to send his children to state schools - as long as they offer a good standard of education.

So is Cameron playing politics with his kids' education (and so lives)? (Surely he knows, with himself as a prime example, that going to Eton gives you a leg up in life.) Or is he perhaps suggesting to some posh selective school in his neighbourhood that he wants them to take his kids no matter how thick they are? (Or otherwise he'll take his ball and go home.)

Date published: 2009/02/04

Tony Juniper speaks in the Sustainable Development series (permanent blog link)

Tony Juniper gave the second lecture in the Engineering Department's 7th Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development 2009 with the title "Sustainable development - great green dream or impossible ambition?"

Tony Juniper headed the so-called Friends of the Earth in England for many years and is an archetypical so-called environmentalist, so very academic middle class. Indeed he is the Green Party candidate for Parliament at the next election. He is very slick and talks pretty quickly and in a way which implies he has been using the same slides over and over again. He named his website after himself (well, some sad people do) and the content of the website is mainly a home page with glowing testimonials from other luvvies about how great and important he is. So he is evidently into branding and promoting himself, which is always worrying. Indeed, he pretty much claimed credit for the 2008 climate change bill which required the government to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050. (Or else.)

It is amazing that someone can speak (quickly) for an hour, and supposedly be on top of the game, without saying anything new. He just repeated the usual litany of CO2 and temperature (etc.) charts and how the world was at an end unless the world did something drastic. Well, he didn't really specify exactly what the world should do, but no doubt we should all do exactly what Tony Juniper wants and we will all be saved. He wasn't really into this Democracy thing (although he is now trying to become elected) because it meant that politicians have to be re-elected every few years so some of the time have to pay some attention to what people want, rather than just pay attention to what the academic middle class wants.

He did touch on one of the classic academic middle class talking points. So supposedly there are "high levels of consumerism" in the world. What exactly is "consumerism"? Well he didn't say, but of course "consumerism" (in the sneering way that the academic middle class uses the term) means goods and services that the academic middle class does not like. So pop CDs bad, classical CDs good. Mobile phones bad (whoops, except the ones they themselves use). Computers bad, or good, depending on whatever. Shoes bad, at least if you spend more than 20 pounds on a pair. One could play this game forever. Juniper could easily have been the Archbishop of Canterbury talking at this point. And indeed, environmentalism can be viewed as just another religion, where the high priests will save the parishioners from holy damnation, and lead the way to salvation.

As was to be expected, Juniper mentioned poverty in the developing world. So one reason we need to be so concerned about the environment is that the poor of the world depend so much on it. Who would have thought. But really, this whole talking point just veers towards neo-colonialism. So the wonderful academic middle class in the West will ride to the rescue of those poor slobs in the developing world. What Juniper and his fellow travellers never do is mention the ordinary people of Britain, because he wants to reduce their standard of living. After all, they have "high levels of consumerism". And he took his usual cheap shot at GM food (so apparently its only aim is to destroy biodiversity). So he's concerned about poverty but trashes technology that might help feed the world (amongst other things).

He, like many of the academic middle class, thinks that GDP is a terrible measure of progress. Far better to have some nebulous "quality economic activity" measurement and "ecological accounting". Funnily enough, only the academic middle class ever believe this stuff. Meanwhile back in the real world (e.g. China and India), everyone wants a car.

Like many of the academic middle class, Juniper says that "pollution" not "income" should be taxed. Well sure, one should put a price on pollution. But by the same reckoning one should pay the proper price for all goods and services. Take trains. For some reason people who take trains to work think the rest of the country should subsidise them. But this kind of direct subsidy is no better than the indirect subsidy you get if you don't price pollution. Of course Juniper benefitted for many years from UK train subsidies because he lives in Cambridge and worked in London, so he is keen on train subsidies. But it is a singularly unsustainable practise (travelling over 100 miles each day to and from work, partly at someone else's expense). And as Juniper well knows, but chose to ignore, if taxing pollution worked then the pollution would reduce and the tax take would collapse. But hey, why let reality get in the way of a good soundbite. Well, unless you kept increasing the pollution tax rate to a level higher than was justified by the circumstance. Which is the case with the petrol tax in Europe.

Now Juniper, unlike most so-called enviromentalists, brought up the issue of population. So the world population is going to increase by perhaps half by 2050. If the environmental problems today are bad, think what it will be like in 2050. Well, on this point Juniper is a complete sinner. He has three children. Most people these days should be thinking about having no children. But those who want to have children should not have more than one or two. Having three or more should be considered worthy of social shunning. Indeed, these people should be specially taxed. Funnily enough, Juniper didn't mention this point. In fact he didn't offer any specific point about how to deal with the growing population. He mentioned at the end, when someone questioned him about it, that the best way to get a reduced population would be to make the poor world richer, and in particular to educate women, because when people are educated they have fewer children (correlation, not causation). Funnily enough, many people in the academic middle class of Britain (e.g. David Cameron, also with three children) seem not to have been passed the news.

On the population issue he also mentioned urbanisation. So half the world allegedly now lives in urban rather than rural areas (but of course that depends how you exactly define these terms). Now it has become a recent talking point amongst many so-called environmentalists that urban living is much more environmentally friendly than rural living. Juniper, to his credit, knows that that is wrong. So why is there urbanisation? Because people want to make money (yes, money, not "quality economic activity"). And the best place to make money is in cities. Indeed, Juniper is a perfect example of that, since he went to London to work because it made him more money (well, he would say "better opportunity, blah, blah", but it amounts to the same thing). And people who make more money, consume more and pollute more. The correlation here is almost perfect. Urbanisation results in increased demand and pollution.

Cambridge University energy consumption (permanent blog link)

The Engineering Department at Cambridge University is sponsoring a series of lectures on the topic of Engineering for a low carbon future. The one today was mostly taken up with a presentation by Paul Hasley, the university "energy manager".

Apparently the university (excluding the colleges) consumed 102 GWh of electricity and 81 GWh of gas (and a smidgen of oil) in 2007-8. (The electricity figure for the colleges was apparently around 38 GWh of electricity.) This is increasing, not decreasing. Part of that increase is down to more buildings and more people. But it is apparently increasing even factoring that into consideration, and that wasn't explained. But it's probably down to more and more computers and more and more scientific equipment (the university, being a lot better off than it used to be, can afford better kit).

Hasley said that the EU is going to require a "Display Energy Certificate" (DEC) in each building, which is allegedly supposed to make the occupants of the building think about their energy use. Only it won't. First of all, after noticing the sign once or twice, people will just filter the image out of their visual processing. And more importantly, as David MacKay pointed out at the end, the information content of the DEC is very poor. The most significant visual feature is a group of colour arrows going from A ("good" energy use) to G ("poor" energy use). (So similar to what you get on washing machines, etc.) Only the scale is arbitrary and relatively meaningless and apparently it is only in comparison with other buildings "of a similar type". And there is a smaller blue bar indicating emissions, only it is scaled to be always the same height, with small almost unnoticeable text underneath giving the actual figure. There are a few real bits of information down at the bottom left corner (so consumption in MWh), but how many people will even notice it? And even if people notice it, does XYZ MWh mean anything to anyone. (So, for example, is 102 GWh of electricity good, bad or ugly given what the university does?)

There is one other problem with the DEC, and the way the energy figures were presented. It seems that the measure of interest is MWh per square meter of floor space. But is that a fair measure? For example, in some labs in Biochemistry the students and postdocs are stuffed in like battery hens. If the department decided to provide more space for these people then the MWh per square meter would go down (well, the space heating contribution might stay the same but the equipment contribution would decline). A far more sensible measure would be the MWh per some measure of productivity. Of course there is currently no such measure of productivity. But if some department, for example, can produce twice as many theses, patents, spin-out companies, etc., as some other department and they use the same amount of energy, then surely the first department is using energy more efficiently than the second department, independent of how much floor space they happen to occupy. Well, it's quite probable that there is a correlation between floor space and productivity, because there is a correlation between floor space and headcount, and there is a correlation between headcount and productivity, but the correlation won't be perfect by any means.

But energy per square meter seems to be the measure, so Hasley showed a graph of energy per square meter (for gas and electricity) by building. Amazingly enough, by far and away the worst building in the university for electricity consumption per square meter (by something like a factor of two) is the relatively recently constructed Plant Growth Facility which rather amazingly was touted as some kind of great triumph of environmental practise. This just goes to show it is not just how you construct a building but what you do with it that counts. (So apparently they have such a huge electricity bill because they have a zillion lamps to keep their plants under perfect daylight conditions, but they then also need air conditioning to cope with the heat that produces, etc.)

Hasley discussed a few of the other university buildings. He joked that the highest energy consumers per square meter were buildings that involved plants, then animals, then museums and libraries, and at the bottom of the pile, people. Needless to say, the academic middle class spend most of their time worrying about the people.

It's not clear how the university might try and reduce its energy consumption, but Hasley mentioned there would be the "soft" approach (incentives, propaganda, etc.) and the "hard" approach (upgrading existing building fabric, etc.). Hasley said that the university had managed to reduce its water consumption by a factor of three between 1987/8 and 2007/8, mostly due to scientific equipment using water more sensibly.

Apparently the city council is requiring the university to produce 10% of the energy needed by any new building from "renewable" resources, whether or not that makes any sense. (But the city council is run by the Lib Dems, a party without much common sense.)

At the end some students presented some slides which just basically said that students should be concerned (who would have thought). Then David MacKay did his short demolition of the DEC.

Then the session chair talked about what he thought should be done on three fronts. For university buildings he said they should all be retrofitted to the Swedish new-build standard. Well, England is not as cold as Sweden, so this might not make sense, even ignoring the cost (which he did, but hey, he's only an engineer). For transport he wanted air travel by university staff to be reduced by 6% per annum. (Why 6%? Hey, Why a Duck?) And he wanted the university to work closely with the city council to further screw university employees who drive to work (as if the council needs encouragement on that front). For materials, he wanted all new buildings to have a 200 year minimum life guarantee and the material to be mainly wood and/or reclaimed. Well, there is evidence for and against wood being better or worse than steel and concrete for being environmentally friendly, but let that pass. But the 200 year life span guarantee is a bit of fantasy, because no building in the country has that, although of course many buildings reach that age without the guarantee. One of the problems England faces is that the housing stock is very old, so very expensive to get to modern standards. A 200 year life span is not necessarily ideal. And in England 200 year old buildings get listed, which means that the planners make it very difficult to make any changes to them, e.g. to make them more energy efficient.

Some students handed out a long questionnaire on "Sustainable Heating" at the beginning of the lecture. Now one thing you would have thought the Engineering Department would tell its students is that surveys that are not randomly sampled are meaningless. Well, even ones that are randomly sampled are usually pretty meaningless, because the questions are slanted or simplistic. In the case to hand, the audience for the lecture was obviously full of academic middle class people concerned about energy. They are hardly representative of the general public.

And as for the questions, here is a small sample:

Q1.7: To what extent are you concerned about global warming?

This is a perfect illustration of why survey questions are so dubious. So each respondent will have a different idea what each of those statements means. And even ignoring that, it is assuming that the responsdents are honest, which on this kind of question is unlikely. It is also implying that people who "actively campaign" about global warming are the "best" and in particular have made "major lifestyle changes", and that is not self-evident.

Q2.14: What aspect of heating are you most concerned about?

Well, most people are quite probably concerned about lots of these issues, and to pick out one is making the world black and white where it is not. Further, this whole issue is very complex and the question is just reducing this complexity to a soundbite.

Q3.4: District heating and under-floor heating systems are more efficient ways of delivering heat energy. Would you like to have them even if you might have to pay a higher price for the new house?

But you have to know the cost before you can answer this question sensibly. If it's 10% more then most people would probably say yes. If it's 400% more then most people would probably say no.

Really, what is the Engineering Department doing encouraging students to waste time and energy (not to mention paper) with these kinds of meaningless surveys?

Cambridge City Council freaks out over children playing under a tree (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Children could be banned from playing under a tree after an order was made to protect it.

Parents and staff at the Under Fives Roundabout Pre-School in Cambridge are concerned youngsters will lose half their play area after council officers succeeded in getting a tree preservation order on the cedar.

The order could prevent the toddlers from playing beneath its branches and see a large area of their outdoor space cordoned off.

The pre-school, which is located at Mayfield Primary School, in Warwick Road, objected to the order and wanted to sow the ground under the tree with flowers and use it as a quiet area for the children.

But at a city council planning committee today, members unanimously voted for the tree preservation order to be granted.

This has taught the children of the pre-school a very important lesson in life: the people who run the world are complete and utter morons. So the city council is blithely happy to murder hundreds of trees all over the city for no great reason (e.g. at Parker's Piece, at Byron's Pool, at Hobson's Conduit, and elsewhere). But let kids stomp around a tree that is not even particularly old and the city council planning committee gets hysterical. In fact unanimously hysterical. Evidently only they should have the right to damage trees.

Date published: 2009/02/01

Children in the UK have never had it so bad (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Children's lives are more difficult now than they were in the past, according to the largest survey into childhood ever to be conducted in the UK.

The finding comes despite the authors saying children have better education, health and more possessions.

It states children need to be loved and sets out recommendations to parents, teachers and the government on how they can better care for children.
The study also suggests children of single-parent families are twice as likely to experience poor conceptual development compared to those with married parents.

The report's recommendations include the introduction of a civil birth ceremony and the possibility for parents to take three-years' leave, with a guaranteed return to work.

This is the usual drivel perpetuated by the academic middle class that runs England. Amazingly enough for these people, the world is always at an end. Needless to say, this report could have been written (and probably was written) at any time in the last N hundred years, and no doubt will be written again and again over the next N hundred years. So "better education, health and more possessions" obviously count for nothing as far as the academic middle class is concerned.

On the point about single-parent families, this is just the usual confusion between correlation and causation.

On the point about taking three years off with a guaranteed return to work, in most professions this is ridiculous. Sure, if you stock shelves for Tesco then you can take years off without any real inability to pick up where you left off. But if you are a doctor, or a plumber or a computer technician, or just about any other skilled profession, then three years is eternity in today's world. Why should a company or organisation be forced to take you back, no questions asked? This idea is just the usual attempt by those people who breed to force the rest of society to subsidise their chosen life style (which of course already happens via free school education, etc.).

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